Floods and drought: Missing preparedness

Even after a decade of disaster management Act, focus has not shifted to preparedn-essdriven approach.

The news that monsoon has hit Kerala and beyond augurs good for our economy but at same time, it sets alarm bells ringing due to associated disasters such as floods and droughts.

Indian monsoon accounts for almost all the annual rain in 75 per cent of the geographical area and 78 per cent of the gross cropped area in the country and its influence transcends all economic sectors in country. In spite of its regularity, it exhibits large variability in space and time scales. Estimating or anticipating its variability could help manage things in better way and also minimise the negative impacts in case of deficit monsoon.

The first such operational Long Range Forecast of Indian summer monsoon rainfall was issued on June 4, 1886 by Blandford who established the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) in 1875. Since then, the IMD has been issuing Long Range Forecasts of Indian Summer Monsoon Rainfall. However, the IMD has long way to go in terms of its accuracy of its predictions. A disaster refers to “a catastrophe from natural or man-made causes, which is beyond the coping capacity of the affected community” and at this period of year, we can anticipate two kinds of disasters – a) floods and/or b) drought.

India is highly vulnerable to floods. About 80 per cent of the total rains takes place within four months and inadequate capacity of the rivers to contain the high flow within their banks following heavy rainfall, leads to flooding. The Brahmaputra and its tributaries in the North East, Indus and its tributaries in the North West, Ganga and  its tributaries in central and the Gangetic belt, Godavari and Krishna in Deccan are cause of flood havoc.

About 40 million hectares out of 3290 lakh hectares is prone to floods. On an average, every year, 75 lakh hectares of land  is affected, 1600 lives are lost and the damage caused to crops, houses and public utilities is to the tune of Rs 1805 crores. The average annual flood damage from 1996 to 2005 was estimated to be Rs 4745 crore and is increasing every year.

On the other hand, 971 blocks of 183 districts covering an area of about 74.6 million hectare have been identified as drought-prone areas. Drought is a normal, recurrent feature of climate and is characterised in terms of its spatial extension, intensity and duration.

Drought produces wide-ranging impacts that span across many sectors of the economy and are felt far beyond the area experiencing drought. Primary impacts of droughts are usually linked with reduced agricultural production, depleted water levels, higher livestock mortality rates and damage to wildlife and fish habitats.

Direct impacts have multiplier effect through the economy and society, such as increased prices for food and timber, unemployment, reduced purchasing capacity and demand for consumption, default on agricultural loans, and reduction in agricultural employment leading to migration etc.

Integrated approach

For better Disaster Management (DM), the Centre got enacted the Disaster Management Act in 2005, which envisaged the creation of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), headed by the prime minister, the State Disaster Management Authorities (SDMAs) headed by the chief ministers, and the District Disaster Management Authorities (DDMAs) headed by the deputy commissioners, to spearhead and adopt an integrated approach to disaster management. This is a paradigm shift, from the erstwhile relief-centric response to a proactive prevention, mitigation and preparedness-driven approach for conserving developmental gains and also to minimise losses of life, livelihoods and property.

However, even after a decade, the focus of DM has not shifted to preparedness–driven approach. It still remains reactive in nature, as was seen in the Kashmir floods or even in the Nepal earthquake.  The Comptroller and Auditor General’s  report clearly brought out that activities envisaged in national guidelines on drought management were yet to be carried out to further strengthen disaster preparedness, and that with reference to floods, only eight states have Emergency Action Plans, though only for 192 dams against the targeted 4728 dams in 29 states as of 2012.

Preparation of close contour and flood vulnerability maps etc were scheduled for completion by January 2010, but are yet to be completed. Also, expansion and modernisation of the flood forecasting and warning network, execution of flood protection and drainage improvement schemes, modification and adoption of revised reservoir operation manuals, enactment and enforcement of flood plain zoning regulations and planning were scheduled to be completed by March 2012, but are nowhere near completion.

Droughts and famines have ravaged mankind from time immemorial and a vast store of knowledge and experience is available on handling these disasters. This precious knowledge and benefits of modern technology should emphasise the concerted action and sustained efforts at disaster mitigation.

(The writer is associated with the Karnataka State Women’s University, Vijayapura, Karnataka)

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